Connecting donors families and recipients

Sometimes donor families and recipients choose to write to one another. The decision to write about your experience is a very personal choice. For donor families, this sharing may help in the grieving process. For recipients, it can provide the opportunity to thank the donor family for their loved one’s gift of life, hope, and health. Many donor families and recipients find comfort in correspondence. All correspondence is initially facilitated through LifeCenter Northwest and transplant center social workers. It is primarily anonymous for the first round of letters. Once both sides have written to one another and give their consent to having more direct contact with one another, we can work to put you in touch with one another directly.

Click on the topics below to jump to the corresponding section

Organ donor families writing to recipients.

Recipients writing to organ donor families.

Tissue donation and contact with recipients.

Correspondence Frequently Asked Questions.

If you have correspondence you would like to send, please place it in an unsealed envelope. On a separate piece of paper, include the following information: your full name, your loved one’s name, and the date of donation.

Email to:

FamilyAftercare@lcnw.org

Feel free to call us at 1-877-275-5269 or 425-201-6563 with questions.

Mail to:
LifeCenter Northwest
Attn: Donor Family Aftercare  
3650 131st Ave. SE, Ste 200
Bellevue, WA 98006

Organ donor families writing to recipients

Information to include:

  • your first name and occupation
  • the state (not city) where you live
  • your family information (marital status, children, grandchildren)
  • how this experience has impacted your life (has the generosity of your loved one helped with your grief?)
  • information about your loved one’s life, passions, hobbies, etc.

Note that the beliefs of the recipient may be different than yours, so please consider this if you include religious comments.

Please do not include:

  • your last name in the actual letter, as this will slow down communication
  • any contact information in your actual letter (phone, address, email, etc.)

Please mail or email your card or letter to us, and we will forward it to the social worker at the appropriate transplant program. The transplant social worker will then send the card or letter to the recipient.

Please put the name of your loved one on a separate piece of paper so we know which recipients to pass it on to. Please mail or email your card or letter to us, and we will send them to the hospital where the recipient received their transplant. The social worker at the hospital will then give it to the recipient.

Examples of letters from donor families to recipients:

From a donor wife: “Dear Friend, I don’t know quite how to begin this letter. It took me several days to figure out how to even address you. You have a name, an identity, a life… and yet our connection, while a single aspect of my life, is deeply meaningful to me. You are part of the legacy my husband left for me and our two young children. You are one part of the many lives he touched in his death. I am finally daring to learn more about the recipients of his life-saving gifts, one of which is you.”

Body of letter is about the donor and his family. End of letter: “The presence of his absence is felt deep in our bones. But our lives are rich with his legacy. You are inextricably tied to his legacy and it is our desire to meet you someday. If you are willing, we would love to hear from you. We are hopeful that our tragedy has been transformed into thanksgiving somewhere out there.”

Recipients writing to donor families

Information to include:

  • your first name and occupation
  • the state (not city) where you live
  • your family information (marital status, children, grandchildren)
  • how your experience impacted your life (what donation means to you)

Note that the beliefs of the recipient may be different than yours, so please consider this if you include religious comments.

Please do not include:

  • your last name in the actual letter, as this will slow down communication
  • any contact information in your actual letter (phone, address, email, etc.)

Please mail or email your card or letter to us, and we will call the donor family to see if they are open to receiving communication. They usually are, but they also really appreciate knowing that a letter is on its way to them.

Examples of letters from organ recipients to donor families:

10-year-old heart recipient: “I would say to you and your family thank you for giving me a new heart and a new chance at life. I was so sad and sick all the time—now I can run, jump, and play with my family. So thank you for making this little girl have such a big smile. I will always love you. Please don’t be sad.”

Recipient: “In my darkest days during these months of recovery, when I had the capacity to think, I would focus on my future: my kids’ graduations, their eventually getting married, having grandchildren, and eventually growing old with my husband. I honestly was not sure I’d see those days. Please know that your generosity and thoughtfulness has not been squandered. It has been ‘planted’ and has ‘grown,’ and will continue to blossom and give forth for many years to come.”

Recipient: “I am curious about who my donor was, that allowed me to live, and whose organ I now have stewardship for. I want to say a heartfelt ‘thank you.’ I am so grateful for the gift, and so sorry for your loss. We know that the grief is beyond words. You’ll always be in our thoughts.”

Tissue donation and contact with recipients

Because donated tissue isn’t transplanted immediately, correspondence between tissue donor families and recipients occurs less frequently, and it follows a different process. Some tissue processors, like our partner Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation (MTF), encourage recipients to write a thank-you letter by providing information about donor family correspondence with their tissue grafts.

Recipient letters are sent to MTF to identify the recovery agency. Once the tissue recovery agency is determined, MTF works with them to connect the donor family and the recipient. When we receive a letter from a tissue recipient at LifeCenter Northwest, we call the donor family to let them know that we have a letter of gratitude and make sure they’re open to receiving it at that time. If they’re not quite ready, we’ll hold the letter or card until they are ready.

Examples of letters from tissue recipients:

“I’m grateful and blessed by your family member’s gift—may I be able to pass it along.”

“I’m 48 years old and have been a nurse for 30 years. The gift of tissue for my back has helped me to walk and be able to swim and bike and play with my grandkids.”

“I received a bone graft that was provided by your loved one in their decision to be a donor. I wanted to say thank you and that I will be paying it forward as a donor myself. Your loved one lives on.”

“I am a 26-year-old teacher and pastor and received an ACL ligament because of your loved one. I hope you know that the life you brought into this world is still blessing others—it has blessed me. Thank you for giving me a second chance at being healthy again.”

Correspondence FAQ’s

Am I allowed to have contact with my donor family or my loved one’s recipients?
Yes. The decision to write about your experience is a very personal choice, but one that is supported by donation programs and transplant centers.

Do I need to wait six months before writing?
No, anyone can write at any time. There is no right or wrong timing. Sometimes recipients write a simple thank-you note soon after their transplant and a more in-depth letter about their experience later.

Will they write back?

For donor families:
Many transplant recipients have said they are overwhelmed with emotion and have difficulty expressing their gratitude in words. Others have said that they are afraid to remind you of your grief. Some feel guilty about being alive when your loved one has died. If you say in your letter that you are open to hearing from them, sometimes this helps them feel more comfortable about communicating with you.

For recipients:
Donor families almost always appreciate hearing thanks from recipients and receiving their letters, but sometimes they have a difficult time responding. Donor families have expressed that it’s difficult to write about their family member in the past tense, that it makes the death too real. Please feel free to keep writing and saying thanks, telling the family about things that you’ve been able to do since your transplant. Knowing that their loved one’s recipients are doing well provides solace for families, even if they are not able to respond immediately. One donor mother took six years to write back to her son’s recipients, but she treasured all the letters she’d received from recipients in the beginning.

Why does correspondence have to go through LifeCenter Northwest and the transplant program?
LifeCenter Northwest and our partner transplant centers uphold the right to privacy of the donor family and the recipient. We handle all correspondence to ensure that it is completely anonymous and identities are kept confidential.

Will my letter be changed or edited?
If you include identifying information before direct contact has been agreed upon, we’ll contact the person receiving the letter first to see if they are open to knowing that information. We then contact the individual from which the letter was written to see if they intended to reveal that information. We only change a letter if we have the author’s permission. We do scan and keep a copy of the letter in our files.

What if I want to meet the donor family/recipient in person?
Direct contact can happen if both sides agree to it, and usually after some anonymous communication has occurred. Both donor families and recipients are in a very emotional place, and it’s helpful to first learn to cope with those emotions. We support all parties having the opportunity to meet if both sides agree.